Parents upset over school district's decision to cut Mandarin Chinese language immersion program

Parents of students enrolled in a special 'Mandarin Immersion Program' offered by the Cave Creek Unified School District are not happy, as the program is expected to get cut by the district due to budgetary reasons.

There are three different World Language Programs in the district, but only Mandarin Chinese is being cut. Parents are upset because they say they are not getting any transparency from the district's new superintendent, Dr. Cort Monroe, who started his role earlier in 2021.

The cut, for the parents, also represents a devastating blow to their children's education.

In a classroom at Horseshoe Trails Elementary School that teaches the immersion program, students speaking and writing in Mandarin is the norm. Students in the program have been studying since kindergarten. learning both English and Mandarin Chinese throughout their day.

The school established the Mandarin Immersion Program in 2015. Mandarin, according to Ethnologue, is the largest of a group of languages they refer to as the "Chinese Macrolanguage," which consists of 13 languages, including Cantonese, that share the same writing system and literature. The website estimates that Mandarin, which is spoken in various parts of the People's Republic of China and other countries like Taiwan and Singapore, is spoken by 921 million people as a native language.

"They've already had so much change with COVID now and everything going on. Now, to be presented this thing that they identify. This is something that they've had since they were in kindergarten. This is part of who they identify themselves with," said Krisha Saunders.

During a Cave Creek Unified School District governing board meeting on May 10, parents and students sounded off, including Saunder's daughter, Liese, who attends the 4th grade.

"I feel like we don't matter," said Liese. "I feel like you don't care. I trusted you, and now I can't anymore."

Holly Weddle, whose daughters have rallied to protect the Mandarin Immersion Program, also addressed the board. She says the district notified parents over the phone with a dial-out message

"That was it, and it's just really hard to even say it to my daughter, because I don't even know why," said Weddle.

In a recent editorial written by Dr. Monroe in the CITYSunTimes, he cited the district's enrollment decrease of around 400 students since January 2020.

"The district is facing a potential budget shortfall in fiscal year 2022 of approximately $4.1 million, which represents a budget reduction of over 11%," Dr. Monroe wrote.

Monroe also wrote that the Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese immersion programs have factored into the district's financial position, costing around $2.3 million a year.

Vicente Reid, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce, also got involved. He sent Dr. Monroe this letter to share parents' concerns, saying the Mandarin Chinese immersion program is a "great example of how to combat ignorance through education, as anti-Asian hate incidents continue to be reported across the country."

"It's very frustrating to see that a unilateral decision was made from an individual to completely just eliminate this absolutely amazing program that is filled with some fantastic teachers," said Reid.

FOX 10 has reached out to Dr. Monroe's spokesperson multiple times for comment, but we have not heard back. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition to try and save the immersion program.

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